John Means pitched this season’s third no-hitter on Wednesday afternoon in Seattle, except it was really the fourth, as Major League Baseball keeps finding out that whatever oddities are available to be achieved, someone eventually will achieve them.
Following Joe Musgrove of the Padres on April 9 and Carlos Rodón of the White Sox on April 14, Means’ gem goes down as the 308th no-hitter in major league history, the first for the Orioles since a combined gem by Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson, and Gregg Olson in 1991, and the first solo no-no by a Baltimore pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1969.
In between Rodón and Means, though, there was Madison Bumgarner, who no-hit Atlanta on April 25, except that the Diamondbacks lefty’s performance doesn’t count as a no-hitter because it was a seven-inning game, the opener of a doubleheader.
There’s nothing new about a seven-inning no-hitter not counting as official — in 1991, Major League Baseball changed the rules, not only requiring that a performance be at least nine innings to be a no-hitter, but also stripping previously acknowledged no-hitters after an unprecedented rush of them the previous season.
Andy Hawkins’ no-hitter in 1990 was one of nine in the majors that year, a total retroactively reduced to seven because Hawkins happened to be pitching on the road, and the Yankees’ errors at Comiskey Park led to four White Sox runs. Because New York got shut out, Chicago didn’t need to bat in the ninth inning, so tough luck for Hawkins not only being the losing pitcher, but also losing the distinction of a no-hitter.
Two weeks later at Yankee Stadium, Mélido Pérez of the White Sox no-hit the Bronx Bombers for six innings, but the 8-0 game was rained out, and the no-hitter eventually was washed out right along with the innings of that game that weren’t played.
Bumgarner, then, couldn’t have pitched a no-hitter against Atlanta unless the Diamondbacks had failed to give him run support and made the game go to extra innings. And he was oh-so-close to being denied a perfect game: The only baserunner for Atlanta was Ozzie Albies, who reached on an error leading off the second inning, then was erased when Travis d’Arnaud grounded into a double play. That would have put Bumgarner in the company of Ed Karger, who threw a seven-inning perfect game for the Cardinals against the Boston Doves in 1907, in the nightcap of a doubleheader that also was planned for seven innings because, back then, they didn’t have lights in ballparks.
As in Bumgarner’s performance, every Mariners hitter was 0-fer against Means on Wednesday, with a no-walk, no-HBP box score that could trick you into thinking it was a perfect game. Seattle’s only baserunner was Sam Haggerty, who struck out in the third inning, made it to first base on a strike-three wild pitch, then was caught stealing on the first pitch to the next batter, J.P. Crawford. That oddity was enough to trick MLB’s app into labeling Baltimore-Seattle as a perfect game in progress, even though the Mariners had gotten a baserunner.
Twenty-seven Mariners batted against Means, and all went 0-for-3. There were no walks, no hit batsmen, no errors even. It’s the closest thing baseball has had in more than a century to the rarity of June 23, 1917, when Babe Ruth walked Ray Morgan of the Washington Senators to lead off a game at Fenway Park, umpire Brick Owens ejected Ruth for arguing, Ernie Shore came in, and after Morgan was caught stealing, retired the next 26 batters for what still counts as a combined no-hitter, but not a perfect game.
What all of this shows is that there’s still an enraging quirk of the current rules that hasn’t come into play — yet.
It doesn’t take that much imagination, and in fact we can already pinpoint a date when it could reasonably happen. The Mets and Phillies were rained out on April 15, and will make up that game with a doubleheader on June 25 in Queens. There’s at least a 20 percent chance that Jacob deGrom will be on the mound for New York in one of those games, and knowing how the Mets tend to (not) provide run support for their ace, you can see where there might be trouble.
It takes very little in the way of imagination to see deGrom striking out 15 batters over seven perfect innings, but… oh no… the Mets don’t score either. So, it goes to extras, deGrom gets through the top of the eighth, and the Mets don’t score in the bottom. Then, in the ninth, the Phillies figure they’re just not getting a hit off of this guy, so they start with a sacrifice bunt to get their free extra-inning runner from second to third. A sacrifice fly brings him home for the game’s first run, deGrom gets a strikeout to end the inning, and then the Mets go down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
This would be a perfect game for deGrom: 27 batters, 27 outs, not a soul reaching first base safely… and he would be the losing pitcher of a perfect game, something that, until the COVID-19 rule adjustments, would have been not only impossible, but unthinkable.
Means got everybody out but didn’t get a perfect game. Bumgarner didn’t allow a hit in a complete game, but didn’t get a no-hitter. Baseball finds a way. It’s only a matter of time until the deGrom scenario plays out, whether it’s for the two-time Cy Young winner or someone else. It doesn’t have to be this way, but Baseball has done it to itself by mucking with the rules to the point where even the simplest things can defy any semblance of logic.